Catholic nurses from across the country to descend on Cape Cod for first-ever summit

By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor

SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. — Columbus Day weekend is the last hurrah for the tourist season on picturesque Cape Cod. Joining this year’s cast of visitors will be Catholic nurses from across the country, as they gather at St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth for the annual National Association of Catholic Nurses, U.S.A. summit/conference.

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Running from October 6-8, this year’s gathering is titled, “Catholic Nurses Ministering in the Spirit of Francis.”

But this is no ordinary conference. This will be the first-ever summit of Catholic nurses to be held in the United States.

“The major difference is that a summit gathers nurses, healthcare workers, EMTs, and first-responders to not only share ideas, but to put in place a plan of action on these ideas,” said Marylee Meehan MA, RN, of the Fall River Diocese, president emeritus of  the International Committee of Catholic Nurses and Medico-Social Assistants (CICIAMS); past president NACN- USA; appointed to the Pontifical Council of Healthcare Workers by Pope Benedict XVI; CICIAMS president; emeritus status assigned by Pope Francis.

“The summit is more complex,” Meehan told The Anchor. “There will be presentations in the morning, but the big difference is that there will be Task Force Groups to meet each afternoon to discuss the morning topics.

“The Task Force Groups have pre-assigned leaders for the group process, pre-assigned content experts for each group, a recorder, a summarizer, and pre-assigned group membership based on registration data. Each group will have a priest or religious at the table. It is very structured and the whole idea is to come up with concrete plans of action for some of the problems modern-day nurses face in the secular world.”

Meehan stressed that while the registration for Catholic nurses has closed, all nurses, Catholic or not, and healthcare workers, first-responders, EMTs, and police and fire personnel are very welcome to attend. “In fact, I contacted Cape Cod Hospital and talked to its president and extended an invitation to all healthcare personnel.

“I also extended an invitation to the local police and fire departments and their personnel, and for them to tell their friends. I’m very excited that we have opened this up to everyone.

“We need to have a plan of action in place by the time the summit is finished, and we need other people’s input from the healthcare field.

“And, we have just received a papal blessing from the Vatican for this event.

“I feel this is what God is calling us to do. The line from the ‘Lord’s Prayer,’ resonates — ‘Thy Will be done.’”

Meehan added that some attendees are coming for some but not all of the sessions: “That’s great too. We tried to make this affordable for everyone to come at least one day, even to the point where attendees can brown-bag their lunch to save money.”

According to the summit brochure, “The 2017 NACN-USA Summit/Conference explores leading healthcare issues dominating current national debates including: drugs pre-birth to pre-death, veteran suicide, proposed protection/prevention solutions, and their inherent moral challenges for Catholic nurses. The program is designed to equip nurses to lead needed efforts within their organizations. During the summit/conference, the collective knowledge and leadership talent present from nursing practice, education, research, and policy will inform, analyze, collaborate, network and propose actions plans for NACN-USA members.”

The summit/conference will focus on the NACN’s mission presented on its website at “The National Association of Catholic Nurses, U.S.A. gives nurses of different backgrounds, but with the same Roman Catholic values, the opportunity to promote moral principles within the Catholic context in nursing and stimulate desire for professional development. This approach to Roman Catholic doctrine focuses on educational programs, Spiritual nourishment, patient advocacy, and integration of faith and health. As we continue to share our faith and values with each other, and with other healthcare providers, we simultaneously reach outward to the larger Church and also our communities, as we offer support to those in need.”

Catholic nurses uphold the mission of supporting those in need, and the summit will address several pressing issues faced by nurses today, including drugs pre-birth to pre-death, the dramatically rising veterans’ suicide rate, and the truth about Reiki and Yoga.

Attendees will share their faith and values with other healthcare workers, family, clergy and religious. The conference will give those in attendance the opportunity to dialogue and come up with concrete plans of action and the tools to provide care in the secular world.

In addition to the aforementioned goals, the summit hopes to provide nurses with new ways to “impact advances in patient advocacy,” and deepen their Catholic conscious “to act on moral and ethical issues which conflict with secular society.”

Meehan also told The Anchor that the Fall River Diocesan Council of Catholic Nurses had the idea to contact President Donald Trump. “President Trump has said he has a goal to eliminate the opioid addiction epidemic in this country,” she said. “We put together what we would like to say to the president and forwarded it to the National Association of Catholic Nurses’ president, Diana L. Ruzicka, RN, MSN.

“She used our recommendations and prepared a letter sent to the president advising him that the opioid epidemic is one of our topics of discussion and will have a plan of action established. She told the president that a report of the plan will be sent to him.

“President Nixon said during his presidency that he wanted to eliminate the drug problem in the United States, and that was a long time ago. It has become so much worse now. In fact we’re finding children of opioid addicts are committing suicide because of their parents’ addiction. This has to stop.” 

Appropriately enough, the conference will open each day with Mass at St. Pius X Church. Another Mass will also be celebrated on the Saturday by Fall River Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., at 5:30 p.m.

The opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available throughout the weekend as well, as will daily recitation of the Rosary.

Scheduled presenters include: Meehan, Father Kazimierz Chwalik from the Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge; Maria Arvonio MA, RN, NACN-USA northeast regional representative, CICIAMS United Nations NGO, N.Y. delegate; Father Daniel Cambra, MIC, director of the Marian Evangelization Team and the Holy Souls Sodality in Stockbridge; Dr. Marie Hilliard, JCL, PhD, RN (retired colonel U.S. Army Reserve), director of Bioethics and Policy, National Catholic Bioethics Center, president elect, NACN-USA, CICIAMS, chairperson Bioethics Committee; and Sister Callista Roy, PhD, FAAN, voted Living Legend in Nursing in 2007 by the American Academy of Nursing.

Several Blue Ribbon Panels with Q&A sessions will take place, with follow up by the task force groups. Topics include: Drugs pre-birth to pre-death; veteran suicide; and pain/stress management — issues and solutions.

The summit/conference will not be all work and no play. The event takes place during Yarmouth’s Seaside Festival Weekend. Family members will be able to enjoy the festival parade, musical entertainment, kayak and canoe races, sand sculpture contest, pie-eating contest, fireworks, a craft fair, and rides.

Also slated is an “attendee entertainment” evening when “each state is expected to participate.” The call is to “bring you talent, instruments, dance shoes, costumes, and laughter.”

The weekend promises to be filled with proactive plans to address key issues facing healthcare workers in the U.S. “The NACN president said, ‘Nurses care and they act,’” Meehan told The Anchor. “That’s what we’re coming together for.”

To register, or for information, visit

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